Getting the Most Out of the Right Broker

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If you are a frequent mailer, you already know the value of a good list broker. For those who may be new to the direct communication game (particularly e-mailers), it will be critical to have the best advice and assistance available.


On the surface, it probably looks like a no-brainer to get a list, mail it and watch the response roll in. For those born under lucky stars, that approach might work; for the rest, it's going to be a little more complicated.


Magazines, newspapers, television, radio, package inserts, direct mail and the Internet are all forms of media with which you can contact prospective customers. And despite the hype and new economy bafflegab, at the end of the day, for marketers, the Internet is just that - another medium with its own set of parameters, limitations and opportunities for success or failure.


Fortunately, there are people who can provide expert assistance with the list aspects of the medium of mailing. I have heard several uncomplimentary names for these people; in public places at least, they're usually called list brokers. These days many of them are trying to reinvent themselves as various forms of cybergurus, but scratch the surface and the old skill set is still there. Even with many do-it-yourself, online list ordering services available, there is still a role for the specialist. It is the information about the list, the list owner, the usage, the source of the names, the cleanliness of the names, etc., that you're not necessarily going to get by ordering online. And though information directly from the list owner will be useful, it may not tell the whole story.


Among the service providers that can help you control costs, achieve response breakthroughs and increase profitability in your mailing efforts, your list broker has the potential for having the most effect. That is, provided you're able to form a relationship with one who is interested in helping with your business and not just persuading you that more is better and leaving it at that. That means the more names you mail, the more money the broker makes.


Even if you aren't sure of yourself when it comes to the list business, you should still demand quality of service and get it. In the process, you'll learn a lot, too. I won't go near the topic of unscrupulous practices in the list business; my purpose is to help you understand what a responsible list broker should do for you.


The focus of your broker should be finding good lists and helping you get a good deal for them - pretty basic. What else? Certainly, your broker's knowledge of industry trends will be of value, particularly if you're new to mailing. What lists are working well? What lists need updating? Which e-mail lists are truly opt-in? Your broker should be able to help you put together a mailing plan that includes some risk as well as some safe bets. This way, you'll maximize your response, plus you're learning for next time.


Don't be afraid to be proactive in uncovering untapped sources of names and new markets. Watch your own mail and look out for advertisers that may have lists that are not promoted within the industry and push your broker to investigate on your behalf.


Needless to say, the level of service you receive has a bearing on how happy and productive your relationship with your broker will be. There is something extremely unhappy about running around on the day your mailing tape is due, trying to round up the various lists you have ordered. That is the broker's job, and delivering files on time is a basic duty.


Another basic is access to and information about lists that are available and even those that aren't on the market yet. This is where more is better. Knowledge of your particular industry is a bonus. Most brokers will be as versatile as they can possibly be because it is in their interest. But you will be better served by one who knows your industry, reads that market, knows the responsiveness of individual lists in your market, can give you actionable advice and can help you adapt to changes in the marketplace. It will be a challenge for brokers to keep up as more nontraditional industries enter the mailing and, particularly, e-mailing market.


While you will be encouraged by your broker to form an exclusive relationship and you may come to know and trust a particular individual, you should keep your options open and always assess other brokers. It's not uncommon for particular brokers to have formed close (and convenient) relationships with particular list sources and, as a consequence, the options you're offered may be limited. Nobody said this would be easy.


A final thing your list broker can do to make your life easier is to practice proven and accurate accounting procedures. This is a subject to bring up at the outset of your relationship, not when you have a stack of indecipherable invoices in front of you. Establish a process that works for you upfront.


The most important thing you want is a broker who takes a proactive approach and doesn't just wait for your next list order. Suggesting test patterns, commenting on your promotions, assisting in analyzing and interpreting the response you get. These are ways a broker can provide an additional perspective on your business. Some of this depends on you. You may have to share your business secrets, which makes it all the more important to have a solid, professional relationship with your broker founded on mutual trust and cultivated by an ongoing, interactive exchange of ideas.
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